It was a little bit frantic for a while, what with all the back and forth trips across my lounge to attend to Burnished’s increasingly short and urgent typings and the status of Baggage at the bar. Within five minutes he was approached by – wait for it – Cassandra, mysteriously returned from her boyfriend love-in, but now wearing a different outfit (perhaps to give her a few extra seconds of non-recognition time in case Trigger should show up again). She picked me up with the exact same line she’d used on me before, further reinforcing my theory that the (presumed) rewording earlier implied the (presumed) dual driver’s suspicion. This time, however, she couldn’t possibly know I was the same guy. I accepted her offer and let her lead me out onto the dance floor.
All the while I turned over in my head what impression it was this person was trying to give me if my theory was correct. It seemed a paradox. If s/he was connected to the extortion racket and if they in any way suspected me to be collecting information about this (I had to assume the worst), why had they not gone out of their way to convince me there was nothing going on? Why had they both taken me away from Frederick’s, thereby lending credence to Honeycomb’s accusations? But only Cassandra had actually taken me to and promoted Dominoe’s. Burnished, by taking me back to her place, had effectively only reinforced as a behaviour my coming to Frederick’s. So I wondered if this was a much more subtle ploy: in addition to the gradual transportation of Honeycomb’s clientele to other venues, also take people away who’d later return; people who could deny, if they were asked, that they’d been encouraged to go elsewhere by the avatars they’d left with. A clever strategy, sure; but it still didn’t explain why Cassandra/Burnished had executed it if they suspected me to be onto them. Unless…
Within another five minutes of dance, during which time Burnished and Gutter completed their matter arising and commenced on their post-coital cigarettes, Cassandra had complained about the dullness of the venue and relocated us once more. But not to Dominoe’s. I supposed that she was worried Trigger might still be hanging around. So we materialised instead at a rave dive in a basement in an urban decay sim, prim rats scuttling around on the floor between the dancers and fake vomit. Cassandra took a moment to change her outfit, her red gown with its carefree left-side slit down the entire length of her body blurring into a yellow piece of fabric about ten per cent of its predecessor’s surface area.
“What’s so great about this place?” I asked her, keen to push for some sort of rationale. “The music is terrible.”
“It ain’t about the music, honey,” she replied after a fashion (Burnished was busy typing in a smoke ring aimed at my penis), “it’s about the people. I love the people here. That lot at Frederick’s are like cardboard cut-outs. I’m through with that place. This is where you want to bring yourself if you actually want to meet people and have a good time with them. Trust me on this.”
With that, I decided that my night’s work was done. I told Cassandra I had a migraine to avoid and left before she got a chance to reply. And I planted a lingering kiss on Burnished’s lips and told her I had to get up early in the morning.
Which I did. For the next day was the third of the month. I planned on spending it at Frederick’s.
Part six will be published on Wednesday...